The president of Anne Arundel Community College has announced ambitious plans to double the number of students earning degrees, certificates or industry-recognized certifications in the next decade.
Martha A. Smith announced the plan, called "Student Success 2020," Tuesday afternoon at a gathering at the college's Arnold campus, which state and national education officials attended. Smith said the initiative to double the number of graduating students by 2020 includes an examination and possible overhaul of the college's programs and functions, close tracking of students' progress in order to better offer support services and mentorships, and an increase in scholarships.
Smith said the college hatched the plan in response to a speech made by President Barack Obama this year, in which he vowed that the United States "will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world."
Smith said Tuesday, "He put out the call to action, and we said, 'We're going to do this.' "
While college officials are still developing details of the plan, Smith said the college will examine its effectiveness in 2011 and in three-year intervals in 2014, 2017 and 2020.
Currently the school enrolls more than 16,000 students and it grants about 1,500 degrees and certificates each year. The college's budget this year is $100 million, of which about $34 million comes from the county and $29 million from the state.
Glen Cummings, a deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Education, said the president is pushing for Congress to pass a $600 million aid package for colleges and universities to help in the effort.
Cummings lauded the college for taking on the president's challenge, but he conceded it will be hard work.
"For you to take on this goal, it's like taking off your shoes and trying to walk up Kilimanjaro," said Cummings, who oversees vocational and adult education. He added, "I love that you're taking on a big challenge."
James E. Lyons Sr., secretary of the Maryland Higher Education Commission, also applauded the college's effort.
"Gov. [Martin] O'Malley is very enthusiastic about President Obama's goal and hopefully it will encourage other colleges and universities around the state," Lyons said.
Some of the college's standout students spoke of their positive experiences.
Rhonda Ulmer, a 34-year-old mother of three from Odenton, took classes at the school's Entrepreneurial Studies Institute and then "dared to dream" by opening her own photography business.
Chris Leeds, 49, who looked to start a new career after being injured at work five years ago, began taking classes at the college alongside his 23-year-old son, Dan.
"They gave me a foundation to attack a new career, which at my age was extremely daunting," said Leeds, who alongside his son earned a degree in information systems security and works for a Department of Defense contractor. "I can't thank the college enough."